Athletic Need A Fast Start To The Season To Compete For Europe
Expectations were high for Athletic heading into last season. New manager Eduardo Berizzo brought excitement and the signings of Ander Capa, Dani García, and Yuri Berchiche promised to make the team even stronger. However, fourteen games into the campaign everything was falling apart. The Lions had secured just 11 points through the opening 14 games, going 13 straight matches without victory, and were drowning in the relegation zone.
The club responded by relieving Berizzo of his duties and promoted Bilbao Athletic manager Gaizka Garitano to the first team. Simply put, Garitano was tasked will leading the team out of the relegation battle but he did so much more. On the final day of the season the Basques were fighting for a place in the Europa League and the woes of the first few months were nearly forgotten.
This summer the expectations are high once again due to the exceptional form the team showed under Garitano. After going two straight years without European competition, a top-seven finish is an absolute necessity this season. For that to happen the Lions must start strong and their opening matches demand improvement from the previous campaign.
Over the first 14 games of the season Athletic will host Barcelona, Real Sociedad, Alavés, Valencia, Real Valladolid, Espanyol, and Levante while traveling to Getafe, Mallorca, Leganés, Celta Vigo, Atlético Madrid, Villarreal, and Osasuna. Last year these specific 12 fixtures, not counting Mallorca and Osasuna who were just promoted from the Segunda, saw Athletic secure just 15 points. Three wins, six draws, and three losses.
If Athletic are truly going to compete for a place in Europe the Lions must have a better start to the season than last year. Securing important points early on instead of chasing them later on could very well be the difference between a top-seven finish and the bottom half of the table. The team has already proven that they can play great football under Garitano and having the entire summer to prepare should make things even better. However, La Liga will once again be extremely competitive. Every single match, every single point is absolutely vital.